January 16, 2007

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

By Jeremy Schut

Today was one of those early morning events for everyone.  Today’s events entailed a visit to a gold mine, which involved leaving the complex at 6:30 A.M., which in turn pushed breakfast up to 6:00 A.M.  After eating breakfast one of the guides for the day informed us that we were running ten minutes late so we hurried through the early morning traffic to the ERPM (East Rand Proprietary Mine) gold mine.  There we were brought into their boardroom for a presentation on the ERPM.  Waiting the boardroom for us was tea and sandwiches.  I must remind you that it is still only 7:30 in the morning and most of us just ate breakfast, but we were strongly encouraged to eat since we would be going down into the mines in just a short while.  The ERPM was started in 1893, which makes it one of the oldest gold mines in South Africa.  Also annually they average a production of 2349 kg. of gold, and for all you Americans out there that is roughly to 5168 pounds per year.  They also have 2100 employees, 100 of whom are specialists and the other 2000 are what they called “semi-skilled” laborers, which are called such because they are all taught to read and write as well as properly trained to work in the mine.  Most of these “semi-skilled” laborers are citizens of the townships that we have visited in previous days. 

We then traveled down the road to another one of their facilities where they make ice.  Many people are probably wondering what a mine has to do with ice, well, a lot.  Deep in the mines it gets really hot so they need a way to cool it down to make it into a workable environment.  Their solution is to pump ice and air down into the mines.  Their ice facility was just as fascinating as the mine visit I have yet to describe.  We saw all the different parts of the ice operation, how the ice is made, transported, and monitored.  Being an engineer I could easily use all my blog space to just ice production, but I’ll restrain myself a little.  I did want say that they are the largest ice manufacturer in the world and can make around 2,000 metric tons of ice a day!  Also, the ice comes out cleaner than normal tap water. 

On to the Mines.  After coming out of the ice factory we were given a bag of clothes, boots and a hard had.  After getting suited up the group split up.  The engineers and a few others went down one mineshaft and the others went down another.  The elevator ride down was an adventure in itself.  It dropped down at a rate of 11 meters per second ( 24.5 mph) and dropped us off at a depth of around 4200 feet below the surface, nearly a mile below ground.  When the elevator doors opened and light began to spill in what we saw before us looked like a scene from a movie.  The caves had rail-road tracks, lights, flat floors, and power sub stations.  It was like it’s own little city.  From there the engineer group was able to look around another winder that controlled another elevator that went further down from the point.  It was incredible to see such large machines under ground.  The other group went down to a similar depth and saw some of the plugs that they were installing to prevent water from filling the mineshafts.  Don’t worry, the plugs were made of metal and concrete and were meters thick.  For all the worrying parents out there you will be relieved to know that the cables are X-rayed every three months to test for internal problems as well as inspected every week.

After coming up from the mines and cleaning up we ate lunch and heard a presentation by Robin who is now actively involved in projects in the townships as well as a tour guide.  He used to support apartheid but has changed his views and has since poured most of his energy into reconciling the past through his participation in the townships.  He gave a very lively presentation on the history of South Africa concerning the Dutch, England, Xosa, Zulu, and Khoi-San.  It was very informative to see a bigger picture of South Africa’s history. 

Thanks for your continued prayers and thoughts through our journey and learning in South Africa.

Jeremy Schut




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